Flunking DemocracySchools, Courts, and Civic Participation

Flunking DemocracySchools, Courts, and Civic Participation

Michael A. Rebell

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780226549781

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Throughout American history, the primary mission of public schools has been to prepare students to be effective citizens capable of sustaining a vibrant democracy. Over the past half century, however, most American schools have substantially neglected their responsibility to prepare students for civic participation. For example, in 2016, only 43% of voters under 25 turned out to vote and on the 2014 civics exam administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress only 23% of 18 year-olds performed at or above a “proficient” level. African-American and other students of color tend to experience an even more substantial “civic empowerment gap.” This book examines the causes of the decline in civic preparation, and proposes specific policies that states and school systems can adopt to reinvigorate the schools’ ability to prepare students to function productively as civic participants, and considers examples of best practices. Rebell further argues that this civic decline is also a legal failure—a gross violation of both federal and state constitutions. Building on the precedents in the education adequacy cases that have been litigated in 45 of 50 state courts, and the fact that the vast majority of these courts - and the Supreme Court - have specifically held that preparing students to be capable citizens is a primary purpose of public education, the author argues that adoption of effective solutions by states and school systems will require judicial intervention by both state and federal courts. The book proposes specific legal theories and litigation strategies for such court action.